International family disputes increasing rapidly

Is the world really getting smaller?

The number of cross-border family legal disputes being referred to a UK judge who offers assistance in cases has quadrupled in just four years.

International families

The Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales handled 253 cases in 2012, up from 65 in 2008. Lord Justice Thorpe, the Lord Justice of Appeal says the increase is due to the increase in international families.

There are now a wider range of issues including child abduction, relocation, inter-country adoption and forced marriages.

The Office of the Head of International Family Justice offers advice to judges and lawyers acting in international disputes, as well as negotiating with judges in other countries.

Rise down to two factors

Lord Justice Thorpe has co-written a report with Edward Bennett, the lawyer who supports him. He said the rise in requests for help was down to two factors.

The ever increasing number of international family cases coming before the courts, necessitating assistance from an overseas judge or vice versa.

The increasing awareness amongst judges and practitioners throughout the world of the service that the Office provides and the benefits it can bring.

Lord Justice Thorpe said co-operation between countries on family law was needed due to "globalisation, increasing movement of persons across borders, and the ever rising number of family units which are truly international".


In 2012, 127 cases involved European countries; 39 the Middle East and Asia; 35 the Caribbean, north, central and south America; 26 Africa and 15 Australia and New Zealand.

The country with the highest number of cases was Poland, with 14, followed by Pakistan (13) and Spain (12).

Lord Justice Thorpe said: "We acknowledge, as would all individuals concerned or involved with family justice, the additional emotional distress that is caused to any family by the inclusion of an international dimension.

"It is incumbent upon anyone who works in such a sensitive area to try and find ways of mitigating such stress, to the extent that it is possible to do so."

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